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Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 10 – Wet’suwet’en Strong: Indigenous Land Rights in Canada

This episode discusses the Unist’ot’en campaign to protect their land and preserve it for future generations. In 2010, the Unist’ot’en began constructing a cabin within their territory in the exact place where three companies, TC Energy, Enbridge, and Pacific Trails, intended to build pipelines. Their campaign has faced hostility and violence, including from the government of Canada, and its national police force, the RCMP. Most recently, TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink project was backed by the RCMP in an attempt to gain access to the Unist’ot’en camp. To the dismay of Coastal GasLink and Canada’s colonial government, the camp has also received immense support both locally and internationally, with solidarity blockades of Canada’s railroad threatening to shut Canada down. 

Dr. Tait narrates her daily journey home on Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears. It received this name because of the numerous indigenous girls and women that have disappeared and supposedly been killed across the stretch of the road that leads from more populated areas to the territory of the Unist’ot’en. From the side of official authorities, there has been no attempt to resolve the cases. In fact, the Canadian police force is actively perpetrating violence against indigenous people and thus further increase the fear that Dr. Tait and other women experience travelling the 66 km road to their remote territory, knowing they could be stopped and abused at any time. 

In the 1990s , the Canadian government recognised the legal jurisdiction of the Unist’ot’en over their territory, meaning they acknowledged the clans’ right to occupy and use the land. However, both the government and police pretend as if the law doesn’t exist. This disparity in Canadian laws is as old as Canada itself. To deal with the colonial trauma that indigenous peoples have had to deal with for generations, Dr. Tait set up a cabin to function as a Healing Centre that would help indigenous peoples cope with colonial trauma. This includes the disappearance and murder of thousands of indigenous women, as well as arrests of innocent people. 

The situation is worsened by the construction of the Coastal GasLinks pipeline, planned to run directly through the Unist’ot’en territory. Following an interim injunction at the BC supreme court, the company received permission to access the territory for pre-construction work. This resulted in the establishment of a land camp, containing hundreds of workers that are further undermining the indigenous peoples’ security. 

“It is worrying that industrial workers, who come freely and go freely from our territory without any kind of police checks, without any kind of accountability, without any connection to the land or the people in the area” 

Nevertheless, the chiefs at first decided not to resist, hoping for a just verdict. However, the courts’ final verdict was that anyone attempting to interfere with CGLs’ work would be breaching injunction and thus subject to arrest. When the chiefs attempted to resist, basing their actions on Wetsueten law, the police violently enforced the courts’ decision and further marginalised the indigenous clan. The episode gives an insightful overview over the legal human rights abuses taking place in Canada. These should be seen in the bigger picture, as globally indigenous peoples are discriminated against the law and find themselves in powerless positions to challenge authorities. 

Link for further information:

  • Unist’ot’en website with recent updates – https://unistoten.camp/wetsuweten-hereditary-chiefs-meet-with-mohawks-of-tyendinaga-set-conditions-for-nation-to-nation-talks/
  • Link between ‘men camps’ and violence against women – https://thenarwhal.ca/b-c-failed-to-consider-links-between-man-camps-violence-against-indigenous-women-wetsuweten-argue/
  • Interview with another activist – https://www.democracynow.org/2020/2/13/wet_suwet_en_territory_pipeline_opposition
  • On indigenous law – http://jfklaw.ca/making-space-for-indigenous-law/
Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 9 – Forced Labour in China’s Prisons: A Conversation with Peter Humphrey

In December, a six year old British girl buys cheap Christmas cards from Tesco for her friends. Suddenly, she turns to her dad and says: “Daddy, someone has already written in this one”. What he finds is a cry for help from a Chinese prisoner forced to manufacture the cards. In this episode we talk to Peter Humphrey, who was himself wrongly incarnated in the Shanghai prison where the Christmas card was manufactured. This episode touches on the conditions of forced labour in Chinese prisons, corporate social responsibility and the steps consumers can take to stop such grave human rights violations from happening. 

While China has been using forced labour in prisons since the 1960s, the horrific human rights abuses associated with it only became known in the 1990s. Since then, forced manufacturing has become ever more important for the Chinese economy, which is under pressure from other Asian countries producing cheap goods. Officially, the prisons aim to combine education and labour to transform criminals into law-abiding citizens. However, when asked about the effectiveness of this strategy, Peter told us: 

“When it comes to the issue of reform and punishment there is not much reform, it is pretty much all punishment” 

– Peter Humphrey 

The attempt to reform is an attempt to cover up a system that exploits and profits from the prisoners. No one comes out a new, reformed man. In fact, Peter explains that neither the prisoners nor the wardens take the reform aspect serious – prisoners only pretend to be going trough the motions to not cause any trouble. If you want to reform a man you need to treat him with dignity and respect – as Peter explains – and forced labour is not the way to do that. 

Peter Humphrey was living and working in China when his involvement with an American client led to collisions with the police. Based on false allegations, he spent two years in Qinpu prison. The episode gives insight into the chilling strategies used in the prisons to “grind you down, crush you and break your will”. Starting from day one, untried citizens are exposed to unliveable conditions, pushed into writing confessions for crimes they haven’t committed. Peter shares with us that upon his release, he was immediately diagnosed with cancer, a consequence of having been denied treatment in the prison cell though the wardens were aware of his worsening condition. Upon arrest, Peter requested to be given a copy of the UN treaty on imprisonment and torture. When he finally received the document after his trial, he found that it contained a checklist of conditions that had to be met for prisons to live up to the treaty. Peter estimates that Qinpu prison would fail on roughly 70% of the points mentioned. For instance, the document says that prison cells need to be furnished, yet Peter and 11 other inmates shared a completely empty prison cell, where they were sleeping and eating off the floor.  

Apart from these outright-violent measures to coerce prisoners into abiding the prison’s rules, they also use a merit system to convince people to contribute to manufacturing work. When Peter was in prison, manufacturing labour was optional, yet prisoners participating in it were given merit points that could reduce their sentence. In the past four and a half years, the conditions have become even harsher. The system has moved from voluntary to mandatory labour, and various forms of punishment were applied to those not abiding to the system. 

The discussion leads to the topic of corporate social responsibility, and the role that companies and consumers can play in preventing these atrocities from happening. Peter, who was himself involved in supply-chain work, argues that it is almost impossible for MNCs to drill down through the supply chain to “the bottom of the pond” and be certain that no prison labour is involved. Firstly, Chinese authorities prohibit investigations by foreign companies. Also, if low-margin work is sub-contracted to Chinese firms, it is likely that these will further sub-contract the work, thus you can’t find out the working conditions simply by auditing the supplier. Lastly, Chinese prisons are often registered as an enterprise and thus well-hidden from investigation. Thus, the only possible solution is for consumers not to buy low-margin, cheap products that are manufactured in China. 

Link for further information: 

Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 8 – The Immigrant ‘Race’: Part 2 with Jacinta Gonzales

In this episode we are joined by Jacinta Gonzales, a Senior Campaign Organizer with Mijente, to discuss her current activism against US hostile environments. After bringing to the forefront the racial processes underpinning Ellis Island, our panellists and guest discuss the intersection of technology and state infrastructure in targeting and detaining immigrants at the US border. 

In the first part of this series on the immigrant ‘race’, we learned about the racist foundations of the current UK border regime. This episode picks up this threat to draw parallels to the violence of the US immigration system, which has become increasingly visible throughout the Trump administration. Though the fight against illegal immigration has been going on for many years, with the Obama administration seeing record numbers of deportation, this trend is only getting worse as the government is implicating modern technology to expand surveillance. From the beginning of his campaign, Trump painted immigrants as scapegoats for broader political issues in the US. Since coming to power, the presidents’ administration created policies that explicitly use cruelty to make political points, activating a far-right and xenophobic base to protect his agenda. 

Jacinta takes us back to the legacy of Ellis Island, the United States’ busiest immigration station that saw approximately 12 million immigrants pass through its ports between 1892 and 1954. The euphoria associated with having ‘made it’ to the safe haven that was the US is a scene familiar to everyone, having been replicated in movies, books and photos. What is often forgotten, however, are simultaneously occurring atrocities of land theft, alienation of native populations and forced labour of black people. In recognising that the immigration process at Ellis island was heavily racialised, we can begin to draw parallels to todays’ immigration processes. For instance, narratives of the ‘right’ immigrant are seeping into administrative decisions over people’s worth and a value to the US. The episode highlights how contemporary practices of policing and control are based around race and class rather than public safety. 

Jacinta highlights the importance of building power both inside and outside of the state. The NGO Migente brings together networks of campaigners to create a political home that fights on all these fronts. The term ‘political home’ signifies the dedication to certain principles – Migente is pro black, pro women, pro planet, pro workers – “because our communities are all those things and more”. 

‘Sometimes we have to fight and create alternatives outside of the state, and that is where we are able to use the beauty and intelligence and the brilliance of our communities to create options that our community needs. Sometimes those are co-ops, sometimes those are collectives, sometimes those are community gardens. We have so much to offer that we can build for and between each other.’

Jacinta Gonzales

Part of Jacinta’s activism is the campaign #NoTechforICE. It fights against the technology companies contributing to the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) deportation machinery, fuelled by modern data provision and storage technologies. Coupled with an increasing amount of financial resources made available to strengthen the U.S. police force, the power available to ICE directly results in violence against immigrants. The episode touches on the power configurations between the government and private companies, and highlights the shocking ways in which these transcend data privacy laws. Jacinta highlights the next steps that need to be taken to expose and dismantle the actions of ICE, which are resulting in arrests, separation of families and trauma of thousands of people. 

“We face the hard task to work on both understanding and dismantling hundreds of years of oppressive systems that have been used against our communities while at the same time have the vision of understanding where these governments and companies are trying to go with new systems of control” 

Jacinta Gonzales

Links for further information:

  • The work of Mijente – https://twitter.com/ConMijente 
  • #NotechforICE – https://notechforice.com 
  • An example of how facial recognition is used by ICE – https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanmac/clearview-ai-fbi-ice-global-law-enforcement
  • Student protests against Palantir, a private tech company – https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/campus-activists-find-target-intersection-immigration-technology-palantir-n1093136
Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 7 – Declarations in Conversation: The University Strikes Back

From 25th Nov – 4th Dec, lecturers in 60 UK universities went on strike with UCU. We hit the picket lines of Cambridge to find out why they were swapping their blackboards for banners.

At the end of last year, the University and College Union (UCU) organised a strike action at 16 universities across the UK, including in Cambridge. During this time, staff members refused to do university-related work. This was followed by an ‘action short of strike’, meaning that they were working strictly to contact and not rescheduling missed lectures or teaching. By intentionally disrupting teaching, striking staff raised awareness to some of their most pressing concerns, including the gender and ethnicity pay gap that continues to exist in universities like Cambridge. 

For this episode of Declarations, our producers Jing and Matt set out to Cambridge’s picket line – a symbolic line formed by bodies around university buildings. Here, they talked to staff and students about the motivations, causes and possible consequences of the strike. Being aware of the mixed feelings that students and the media had towards the strike, the Declarations team wanted to give insight to the myriad reasons that moved academics to take such drastic action.  The recordings paint a vivid picture of the solidarity that brought staff and their students together, showing that the decision to strike was not taken lightly. 

“For me the strike is about closing the gender pay gap, closing the race pay gap, ending casualisation, fighting for a dignified retirement, reducing mental health issues.” 

 – A striking lecturer 

Each strike day was organised around a theme, many of which broadly corresponded with human rights’ issues covered on Declarations. We talked to staff about one of these: issues of racism and migration. Those students and academics lucky enough to be able to enter and leave the UK freely aren’t aware of the difficulties created by ‘hostile environments’, a term that refers to policies set in place by the UK home office to stop immigration. In conversation with foreign staff, we find out how they are affected by these rules, and how this can adversely affect our education. For more information, listen to this seasons’ third episode on the Politics of Exhaustion. 

“All I want to do is get back to work. I love my job and I love my students.” 

– A striking lecturer 

The episode helps to see the strike action as a single occasion that is part of a much larger picture. The University of Cambridge is becoming increasingly intertwined with global capitalism, technological frameworks and national immigration systems – as are many centres of education. One of our panellists, Matt, is engaged in fighting the institutional support that Cambridge receives from technological companies, which enable increased surveillance of university environments. 

 
“We cannot in good conscience claim to solve some of the worlds’ most pressing problems as a leading university while enabling the marginalisation of people who fled and are fleeing conflict, persecution, hunger. Our student body includes refugees and migrations from across the world. In standing in opposition to Palantir, we stand in solidarity with them.” 

Matt, panellist 

Links for further information

Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 6 – The Immigrant “Race”: Part 1 with Maya Goodfellow

In this episode we interview Maya Goodfellow, author of ‘Hostile Environments: How Immigrants became Scapegoats’ for the first part of our series on about the racialization of immigration. In this enlightening and extremely topical episode, we discuss security discourses of the ‘scary’ migrant, racial capitalism and the racialization of citizenship. 

 
The word ‘immigrant’ carries all kinds of ideas in its three syllables. It’s weighed down by all the meanings it’s been given. You know the kinds of things I’m talking about: ‘low-skilled’, ‘high-skilled’, ‘contributor’, ‘drain’, ‘cockroach’ or just, plainly put, simply ‘a concern’. Not all of these terms are necessarily negative, but each of them is impersonal, clinical and cold.’

Maya Goodfellow 

The episode starts off by questioning the very definition of ‘the immigrant’. The obsession with the topic of migration – the term is widely used throughout the media and politics – seems not to be deterred by the fact that most people do not know its exact meaning. Dating back to the 1951 UN Refugee convention, the definition of a migrant as ‘a person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year’ carries with it its own subtleties. Maya points out that by changing the time-frame that determines when one is considered an immigrant, the measurements of migrant numbers change drastically. 

Before delving into some of the contemporary problems of British immigration policy, our panellists are curious to find out more about the historical origin of the debate. In fact, British history and legislation has been deeply entwined with the movement and integration of foreign people for decades. Using examples from the 1905 Aliens Act directed against Jewish refugees, Maya points out how the concerns of people have changed little in the past century, though anti-immigration sentiments are now directed against people from different places and cultures. 

A consideration of the many actors involved in enforcing and debating immigration highlights that counter to popular sentiment, the UK in fact benefits from an incredibly unequal global economy. Maya gives an insight into the role of the Home Office and private corporations, and draws connections to the gross exploitation of people in detention centres.

“We live in a world where it is necessary to remind people that immigrants are not things, not a burden and not the enemy. That they’re human beings.”

Maya Goodfellow 

The episode then turns to a debate about the racialisation of immigration: Why is the racialisation of immigration permitted? How does it tie into our institutional power relations? And why do people buy into this rhetoric of hate? The answers are multiple, some more obvious while others are surprising. Maya links the process of racialisation to British imperialism, the labour movement and questions of nationalism. She outlines the impact of the last Labour government on immigration policies, and points out issues with the British education system. How can it be that a pupil can go through the entire education system without touching on British imperialism? The episode reveals how deeply the racialisation of ‘the other’ is entwined within British institutions – and what needs to be changed. This leads onto a more positive note; Maya tells us about the people, organisations and movements that she has met throughout her research, which have shown empathy and compassion with immigrants – and there are many of them!

“Choosing to do a project on the Indian independence movement at A-levels history was the only time I can really remember in my education that I learned about something that reflected my lived experience in any kind of way” 

Maya Goodfellow 

Find ‘Hostile Environments’

  • On Verso – https://www.versobooks.com/books/3064-hostile-environment
  • Or in your local bookshop! 

Links for further information: 

  • Maya Goodfellow’s ‘Hostile Environments’ https://www.versobooks.com/books/3064-hostile-environment (or find it at your local booskhop
  • Maya Goodfellow on the current border regime –  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/video/2020/jan/21/why-stronger-borders-dont-work
  • more to follow 

Mentioned in this episode: 

  • UN definitions of a migrant – https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/migration/index.html
  • The 1905 Aliens Act – https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Edw7/5/13/contents/enacted
  • BBC documentary on immigrant nurses in the NHS – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b083dgt
  • Docts not cops – http://www.docsnotcops.co.uk
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Season 4 Episode 5: Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities: A Right or Privilege?

In this episode, we discuss the provision and effectiveness of existing laws aimed to protect the rights of people with disabilities. We are joined by two guests, both students at British universities who have themselves experienced the marginalisation and discrimination that is imposed on persons with disabilities – sometimes unconsciously. The podcast touches on issues of positive discrimination, intersectionality and ‘invisible’ disabilities. 

Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 5 – Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities: A Right or Privilege?

In this episode, we discuss the provision and effectiveness of existing laws aimed to protect the rights of people with disabilities. We are joined by two guests, both students at British universities who have themselves experienced the marginalisation and discrimination that is imposed on persons with disabilities – sometimes unconsciously. The podcast touches on issues of positive discrimination, intersectionality and ‘invisible’ disabilities. 

There are various legal frameworks in place that promote the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights for disabled people, and requires all institutions to make reasonable adjustments in order to grant those. These rights are outlined at the supranational level in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and domestically within the UK’s Equality Act 2010. The importance of such documents is emphasized by Gerald, who explains that “issues of persons with disabilities appear to not be a priority for institutions, if not for the existence of laws”. This is partly due to a lack of awareness, as the discourse on disabilities is ironically often dominated by people who are not themselves disabled. It is also because institutions do not see the necessity of implementing provisions and adjustments for various disabilities before a disabled person requires it, without realising that this hinders many from ever making it to university in the first place. 

Despite legal frameworks being in place, the sad reality is that many institutions are still reluctant to implement procedures or policies. The speakers point out that there exists an issue of priorities set within universities. Ideally, institutions should make anticipatory adjustments for students even before they arrive. However, since the government won’t and can’t enforce this, institutions only follow the law if they are threatened to be sued because they are disregarding it. Sadly, institutions count on the fact that this rarely ever happens. They are aware and take advantage of the fact that disabled students are unlikely to have the energy and resources to deal with a law case against the institutions discriminating them – on top of all the other challenges they are dealing with. 

“And for the people who say, what if you get an undue advantage? If I’ve gone through a court case in order to be able to get a lift in a building, and the issue is that you think that I get an undue advantage, I think that is completely the wrong perspective and also just belittles how much time and energy is put into getting very simple things.”

Rensa Gaunt 

The episode is special in the way that it gives a deep insight into the emotive every-day experiences of people with disabilities, and shows the listener why this is an issue that everyone should care about. The speakers point out that having a disability is not asked for – any person can become a disabled person at any point in time. Furthermore, they recount personal experiences to demonstrate the complexity of the issue at hand. First and foremost, each disability is different, and requires individual adjustments and provisions. Furthermore, students with disabilities are also dealing with a range of other identities, which often further increases their burden. For instance, Rensa explains that women’s pain conditions are often not taken serious and are consequently diagnosed too late.

“The blood that runs through our veins is the same as everyone else’s. It doesn’t take heaven and hell to meet the needs of disabled students” 

Ebenezer Azamati 

Where do we go from here? What needs to be done to change the attitude of institutions, and help people with disabilities enjoy the same rights as all of us? Recognising that not every disability is the same, and consequently providing help that is tailored to everyone’s needs, is a crucial first step. For that, Resna points to the importance of providing points of contact that are aware of the problems faced with people with disabilities, who will understand the individual problem and help to make adjustments. Appointing disability officers within the university, and each college, is one way to assure this. Furthermore, we must deconstruct the stereotypes that are associated with the term ‘disabled’. Not everyone disabled student, for instance is helpless and constantly needs our help. On the other hand, however, many forms of disability are invisible – such as mental illnesses – and shouldn’t be overlooked. 

“It is the environment, not the condition, that makes us disabled” 
 

Links for further information:

  • UK Equality Act 2010 –  https://www.gov.uk/guidance/equality-act-2010-guidance
  • A summary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons – https://www.britannica.com/topic/United-Nations-Declaration-on-the-Rights-of-Disabled-Persons
  • Office for Students on the rights of disabled students – https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/beyond-the-bare-minimum-are-universities-and-colleges-doing-enough-for-disabled-students/
  • The Guardian on disabled students – https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/jan/17/universities-can-do-more-to-support-their-disabled-students
Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 4 – Kashmir: caught in a cross-fire

In Kashmir, thousands of people are living in constant fear of detention and unrest. These conditions are part of a long history of struggle between India and Pakistan over the semi-autonomous state. Recent developments, including the repealment of Article 370 and the communication blackout, have further worsened conditions, leading to serious human rights infringements. This episode gives insight into the complex historical and political processes at play as well as how the everyday lives of Kashmiris are affected. 

Kashmir has been a site of contestation between India and Pakistan since 1947 – the year of India’s partition. That year, a Hindu Prince named Maharaja Harri Singh was in charge of governing the Muslim-majority region and was presented with the choice to join either India or Pakistan. At the time, the region was struggling against insurgents from Pakistan, which shaped his decision to become part of India. Article 370 was enshrined in the Indian constitution, which gave the state of Kashmir a semi-autonomous status and control over its own laws, defence and foreign relations. Hence, while Kashmir is essentially ruled by a state governor with special privileges, Kashmir’s borders are administered by India, Pakistan and China. 

Source: Time

The past few months have seen a sharpening of the conflict caused by several key events. Firstly, the Indian government initiated a communication blackout which included the complete shut-down of internet and phone lines. Our guest speakers explain that this is an important political strategy, as the only narrative of the conflict that is available externally is the one produced by the Indian government. However, the blackout does not only affect communication between families and reporters but also has economic and social dimensions. Hospitals can no longer access data on patients, severely impacting the provision of healthcare. Meanwhile, farmers are cut off from the international market and suffer severe economic consequences. 

On August 5th of this year, India’s prime minister, Narindra Modi, repealed Article 370 and sent military troops into Kashmir, making it the most densely militarised zone in the world. The region has since experienced numerous arrests of political leaders and youths. These can be traced back to the Public Safety Act, which grants the Indian government the ability to detain any individual without trial for up to two years. The ‘lawless law’, as Amnesty International has pointed out, severely restricts the agency of Kashmiris and has resulted in incidences of physical violence and torture. The stories told by our speakers conjure up a picture of how India retains control of the region through “naked coercion”. 

“One million military soldiers for a population of eight thousand people” 

The control over the narratives surrounding the conflict are a key political tool used by the different parties to shape the situation. For one, the widespread attention given to the ongoing dispute between Pakistan and India is hiding the fact that Kashmir, itself, is a political community with claims to sovereignty. Despite being an important third party, Kashmiris have never been given a chance to vocalise their concerns on the international stage. Considering the perspective of the Kashmiris gives right to a third option – autonomy – which up until this point has not been seriously considered. Despite ethnic and religious differences among Kashmiris, there exists a strong political identity with the overwhelming majority supporting the claim for a politically independent community.  

 
“The only thing that would stop these human rights abuses reoccurring is self-determination, so to talk about human rights without self-determination is to miss most of the story” 

Intertwined with this are discourses of nationalism. Some claim that the conflict has resulted at least in part from the nationalist project of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). India’s ruling party is attempting to increase Hindu settlements and alter the majority-Muslim demographic of Kashmir. Furthermore, the dispute can be analysed as an imperialist project shaped by the bureaucratic system inherited from British colonial rule. Our speaker highlights the important fantastical space that Kashmir occupies in the Indian imagination since colonial times, which further feeds into desires of control over the space.


Links for further information:




Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 3 – The Politics of Exhaustion at the British Border

This episode focuses on the UK’s policy of deterring refugees and migrants from seeking asylum by extending the Home Office’s domestic “hostile environment” beyond state borders and into mainland Europe. We investigate the ethical and legal aspects of these policies and their implications on the lives of refugees across Europe.

In line with the Home Office migration policies set out in 2012, the UK government has pledged to stop ‘onward movement’ of migrants who attempt to leave their first save country of arrival in order to find a better life  for themselves in another. This strategy, which Theresa May laid down in her 2016 Speech at the first ever UN summit on mass movement of refugees, has become an all-too familiar British policy line, with disastrous consequences. The UK has since mobilised vast amounts of resources to pre-emptively stop refugees from crossing its borders, including funding for a border wall in Calais and a further £6 million towards security equipment and coastal monitoring. 

‘Women, children, sick… there are families with children here… That poor woman with a 3 or 4-year-old child, how can they tolerate this? We have people here who have a broken leg, who have a cold or don’t feel well and can’t walk…they will freeze from the cold. Illness, sickness…’.   

Source: Welander, M. (2019) The Politics of Exhaustion and the British Sea Crossings Spectacle

It is important to consider these policies in light of the larger migration question within Britain. The drastic measures taken combined with a dehumanising rhetoric around refugees posit immigration as a major factor shaping politics and the lives of British citizens. However, 84% of the worlds’ refugees are accommodated by poor and middle-income countries, most of which are located in the Global South. At the forefront of the migration debate are thus the minority 16% of refugees, of which the UK shares a tiny fraction compared to Italy or Germany. Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that British migration policies are highly porous, creating what are effectively open borders for highly skilled workers while excluding those with few or no skills. This ignores the reality that the UK is highly dependent on low-skilled workers for economic, social and not least demographic reasons. 

The podcast gives insight into the situation of the Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps, where daily violence has become the reality for many people. Facing sustained intimidation and violence by the state authorities, the camps’ inhabitants are sleeping rough and are facing mental health problems while being exposed to the horrific physical conditions of the winter months. Marta’s research on the refugees’ situation led her to coin the term ‘Politics of Exhaustion’, which encompasses both the British border policy and its devastating consequences. 

the politics of exhaustion can be understood as a complex deterrence approach with the objective of exhausting asylum seekers, mentally and physically, with the ultimate goal of deterring them from approaching Britain for asylum, or indeed other European asylum systems”

The podcast delves into the myriad forms of  structural and physical violence that take place in the British ‘border zone’. Most of these are covert forms but others are highly visible, combining physical dispersals and push-backs, arbitrary detention and removals, evictions and demolitions.  In the episode, Marta outlines the work of Refugee Rights Europe, the NGO she set up in response to the wide-ranging human rights violations of refugees seeking security in Europe. She highlights how the Politics of Exhaustion also play out against NGOs, through increasing intimidation of aid volunteer as well as the obstruction of the (already extremely limited) inflow of aid. 

 “The most subtle forms of violence and neglect and intimidation, they all contribute to this really heightened sense of exhaustion that people keep exerting, keep using their agency to try and find a solution to their predicament but being constantly pushed back” 

– Marta  Welander










Links for further information: